Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Class: User
Author: Ethan Reed
Score: (3.5/5)
October 22, 2009 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Ah, Terror of Mechagodzilla. It took me years to realize, but this is a fairly competent film. I used to criticize this film for not being on par with Ishiro Honda's earlier efforts, seeing it as an unfitting way to end his career. Indeed, the crisis that the Japanese film industry had suffered in the '70s leaves its claw marks on the production. This doesn't quite harm the movie however, as we'll soon see why.

The eminent Dr. Mafune (Akihiko Hirata) was outlawed by the world of science when he made public his discovery of a gigantic sea monster, Titanosaurus. To make matters worse, the doctor's daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai) was killed during an experiment that attempted to control said monster. But the viciously cunning Spacemen of the Third Planet managed to pull her back from the dead as a cyborg. Grateful for their intervention, both father and daughter joined the aliens in their world domination agenda; as they employed the combined forces of Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus, eager to take revenge on humanity.

The first thing one might wonder, is how this film compares to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). This surely is a tough call. The former movie was joy for its campy atmosphere and energetic rhythm, whereas Terror prefers to be a bleaker affair, emphasizing on the progressing destruction of a family and how this would ultimately decide the outcome of the monster battle. That is not to say the film is devoid of action, though it's clear Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) set out to be a more exciting film that this one. Regardless, Terror of Mechagodzilla ends up being the better film, since a serious Godzilla movie is a luxury not many films in the franchise have often enjoyed.

But what can be said about the characters. For starters, our protagonist Ichinose (Katsuhiko Sasaki) doesn't undergo that much of a journey as a character; in fact his actions barely affect the plot at all. Case in point: most of the time he gets captured by the aliens only to be saved by his friend Murakoshi (Katsumasa Uchida), who in turn does all the hard work (and investigation!) for him. Katsura is the real star here, as is usual for women in Honda's movies. Dr. Mafune falls into the mad scientist stereotype, sadly (complete with a ridiculous wig and “mad scientist glasses“!). His character does show subtlety when Katsura's fate begins to be foreshadowed. As villains however, the alien leaders (Goro Mutsumi and Toru Ibuki) end up becoming overly cheesy, distracting us from the otherwise serious plot.

Acting holds up fairly well; our two leads give credible performances (though Ai's reactions to being shot or electrocuted (this happens a lot in the movie) are quite over the top). Hirata is as respectful as usual, yet the nature of his character doesn't allow him to break any grounds with his performance. I would like to take a moment and discuss Ikio Sawamura, one of Honda's regulars, which for some reason is often overlooked. He is perhaps better known for playing the fisherman in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964). Here he is Dr. Mafune's mute butler/spy, keeping track of Katsura's movements. This was one of Honda's most versatile actors, and it's a shame how few people care to mention him.

But of course, this wouldn't be a complete review if I didn't touch on the film's central characters: the monsters. It's no secret that Titanosaurus has collected a number of fans over the years. His design isn't that original but is more in tune with the monsters in Toho's early kaiju movies. The creature is easily one of the most powerful monsters in Toho's repertory too. While the strength of most monsters in the Godzilla series that followed could only be measured by which of them had the shiniest beam, Titanosaurus is a natural born fighter. Impressive in its tactics, relentless in his brutality; this is a worthy opponent for the King of the Monsters. An interesting aspect that is brought up in the movie is that Titanosaurus is in fact a peaceful creature who only generates destruction while controlled by external forces; this makes his demise all the more sad.

Mechagodzilla, despite being a robot, is given personality in his first 2 movies. This is even more explicit in this film, where his brain is installed in Katsura's body, thus linking her persona to the monster. His weaponry is as impressive as in the previous film, with the new addition being the "Revolving missiles! Mechagodzilla's new weapon!" that are fired at things with noteworthy results.

The only real problem with this monstrous cast is Godzilla himself. It's true his role as a pure protagonist is depicted properly, but overall he doesn't experience any significant changes in his arc. This is hurt further by the fact this was the final film in the Showa timeline. The last film in this series to bring up a new aspect of the character was Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), a film that defined Godzilla as a force of nature. Here in his last film, the monster is drawn to the battles and exits without giving us a hint that this is closure.

The tight production does wreck havoc on some aspects of the film. There are moments of awkward editing. The most aberrant of these occurs when Murakoshi is chasing Katsura and the butler; the 2 abruptly disappear from one shot before it ends. When the aliens first appear, instead of seeing them in costumes and in their spaceship/base, they're just wearing business suits while they discuss their plans in a hotel room! This problem luckily doesn't extend to the special effects department. Here Nakano rejoices with fantastic pyrotechnics and rotoscoping (Mechagodzilla's ray looks really sharp). The monster suits look sharp and detailed, though the matte shots could have done with some extra work.

Akira Ifukube's music is a solid work. Our 2 monster villains are given effectively moody themes (though Titanosaurus' theme resembles the main title for Rodan (1956)). Godzilla's theme from the first film returns, providing the epic tone Ifukube is known for. But the cue that really stands out for me would be Katsura's theme, for the drama it creates. The "Even though you're a cyborg, Katsura I still love you!" scene definitely benefits a lot from the music.

It's sad that for years most people have only seen the US theatrical cut, which hacked up the film to remove brief instances of violence and nudity that were seen as too intense for children (despite the fact that Jaws (1975) had pulled several kids to the theater even when it was more violent than any Godzilla film could hope to be...). Luckily the film has been made available in its uncut version and the elusive UPA cut which featured an outlandish prologue scene that attempted to explain Godzilla's history through clips of Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) and All Monsters Attack (1969). Overall, Terror of Mechagodzilla deserves credit, and shouldn't be as overlooked as it often is among fans.